If a wife suspects her husband is having an inappropriate relationship with one of his female employees, is it legal to fire the female employee even if there’s no evidence of an affair?
It is in Iowa. The state’s Supreme Court ruled today that an “employee who has not engaged in flirtatious conduct may be lawfully terminated simply because the boss views the employee as an irresistible attraction.”
The court upheld a lower court ruling that Melissa Nelson, who had worked as a dental assistant for Dr. James Knight of Fort Dodge for 10 years, had no basis under the state’s civil rights act to sue him when he fired her at his wife’s demand.
The two had texted each other with what could be considered sexually suggestive messages. And when Dr. Knight fired Ms. Nelson, he told her it was because he might try to have an affair with her.
In her suit, Nelson claims the dentist discriminated against her on the basis of her gender. She also says the action could allow any employer to fire any employee just by saying “my wife is jealous.”
But the court today rejected her argument:
The civil rights laws seek to insure that employees are treated the same regardless of their sex or other protected status. Yet even taking Nelson’s view of the facts, Dr. Knight’s unfair decision to terminate Nelson (while paying her a rather ungenerous one month’s severance) does not jeopardize that goal. This is illustrated by the fact that Dr. Knight hired a female replacement for Nelson.
The court said its decision doesn’t mean that the dentist didn’t treat his employee badly, just that he didn’t treat her illegally.
The dentist’s attorney called the 7-0 ruling a victory for family values.
The woman’s attorney told the Associated Press it’s a case of blaming the victim.
“These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don’t think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires and that Iowa women are the ones who have to monitor and control their bosses’ sexual desires,” said attorney Paige Fiedler. “If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.”